The Mystery of UpCycling Architecture

While up-cycling is the fad amongst crafty (industrial) designers, I have been wondering what up-cycling for architecture might be. Sure we have had adaptive reuse, from Scarpa’s Castelvecchio to Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern, but you know, they just not as ‘sustainable’ sounding as ‘up-cycling’. Really adaptive reuse is just a bit too much culture/heritage – it sounds like making concessions, perhaps even negotiating intellectual property rights! Where as up-cycling has the nice ‘chi-ching’ sound of making (and selling) stuff for free from ‘rubbish’.

Catch term from the Cradle to Cradle gurus, McDonough and Braungart, up-cycling is predicated on a zero waste methodology, where waste = new material. Perhaps Ronchamp (Le Corbusier) is more of an up-cycle – its thick walls contained the rubble of the previous pilgrimage chapel, bombed out during WWII.

The WebUrbanist site has just posted up-cycling for the suburbs – presenting up-cycled buildings as ones where another function has been plonked on top …. that is probably a very superficial reading, but that is what the drawing looks like.

The problem of up-cycling, a problem that wouldn’t have caused Le Corbusier any problems at Ronchamp, is non-standard construction material. If you can’t guarantee the structural integrity of a re-cycled steel or concrete beam, it’ll never get through building consent. Similarly up-cycling is antithetical to industrial design, which is based on the mass production of standardised materials. I am not suggesting getting rid of building consent processes, but that the rules need to be de-industrialised… or rather post-industrialised… to actively support more non-standard constructions solutions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *